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The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health

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1. Introduction

Modern technology is quickly becoming a major part of society. Smartphones have become a significant part of our everyday lives. The creation of social media applications (apps) was intended to ease access to communication through the internet with friends and family. However, many users utilize these apps the wrong way. Social media takes a big toll on an individual’s mental health that many individuals fail to understand. It is not so much the apps that negatively affect mental health, it is the way individuals decide to use these apps. With the rise of modern technology, social media has quickly been resurrected. Apps such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are all part of the reason society uses the internet today. Users are always trying to stay in the loop with what’s going on with the world and people in it. Seven in ten Americans use social media, Jon Green, Ph.D., and his colleagues cited in their research showing that the use of social media has become a prevalent activity in today’s society. With so many individuals using social media, it is no wonder why there is an impact on mental stability in many people today. The use of social networking sites is the second most frequent internet activity today (next to email). It has a global penetration rate of 45% (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). With the large number of users across the world, many theories have been developed with its said effects on mental health. These theories all seem to have one general consensus: Social Media affects mental health in some way. Although social media allows individuals to make social connections, exchange ideas, and share media, it also has a multitude of effects on mental health. Steps may need to be taken to prevent some of these ill effects from happening in individual users today.

2. Literature Review

The growth of social media has increased rapidly throughout the world, changing the way people communicate. The change in technology has caused a rise in mental illness and psychological issues. Using and having access to social media has been statistically linked to increased anxiety and low self-esteem. The literature on the influence of social media on mental well-being and psychological functioning is growing. This review aims to articulate what is currently known about how using social media can affect young adults’ mental well-being. Most often, research suggests that there are both positive and negative psychological outcomes of using social media. It gives them an opportunity to connect with others, a factor that has been shown to influence psychological health. Young adults have also reported that social media has resulted in increased social support by providing a space where they can meet others and share similar experiences. Increased social support has been linked with lower levels of depression and anxiety. Another study found that social support mediated the relationship between the number of minutes an individual spent on social media and both depression and anxiety. In other words, using social media decreases an individual’s likelihood of experiencing depression and anxiety by increasing the amount of social support that they feel. An additional study found that social support moderated the relationship between stressful life events and anxiety/depression, meaning that for individuals who had higher levels of social support, the presence of stressful life events did not influence their levels of anxiety and depression. These findings suggest that it may not be social media in and of itself that has an effect on the mental well-being of young adults, but rather the social support that it provides. Higher levels of social support would logically be expected to result in lower anxiety and depression.

3. Methodology

The methodology section will outline the search strategy employed in this study. It has been designed to answer several questions which have been outlined a-priori. How do variations in social media interaction relate to mental health status in a cohort of young Australians? Are there discernible trends in usage (i.e. increased hours per week) in relation to mental health status? Are some types of usage more ‘risky’ for mental health than others? i.e. is there an association between heavy Facebook use and depressive symptoms. What is the likelihood that a young person will experience a significant deterioration in mental health at a time when their social media use increases or decreases from the average pattern for the group? With respect to the case-crossover analysis, what are the immediate effects of problematic social media use on mental health?

4. Results and Analysis

The overall effect of social media has also changed global learning and education. It is because students these days are more likely to multitask, and it is more enjoyable to do their assignments using the internet as a medium compared to the conventional way using books. According to the respondents, it has some advantages such as it is easier for them to search for information, provides a lot of reference; it is more creative and expressive, and helps develop their IT skills. But the negative effect is that at the same time, they will be more involved in the social network compared to the assignments given, and there is a lack of information credibility control from the internet. A lot of information is misleading, and it is difficult to differentiate between the real information or just an opinion. This will bring adverse implications for their future. From the behavior aspect, it can boost individualism and less socializing with others. This is not suitable with the learning and education process at this time.

The result from respondent (social media user) feedback implies that the high popularity of social media has increased the current negative social behavior among the youth. These negative and unethical behaviors are cyberbullying and identity theft. According to [8], cyberbullying is an aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself. In another type of situation, identity theft on the social network is more likely to occur because of fake profiles used by certain people to trick others into revealing their personal information, and this information will be used in a bad way. This is related to the theory of the effect of media as a trigger, which if the person has bad social behavior, it will be more continuous when he is in an online situation.

5. Conclusion and Recommendations

Online peer support is becoming increasingly formalized. A recent innovation for Spectrum, a New Zealand online youth mental health service, has been the development of an online group therapy program. Our research found that group therapy is a well-received treatment option for youth with depressive disorders. This formalization of online peer support has potential to provide benefits similar to those of offline group therapies to individuals who are unable to attend face-to-face sessions due to various barriers. However, little is known about the effectiveness of the multitude of online peer support types and the ways in which they are best facilitated, and more quality research in this area is needed.

Social media provides a low-stigma way for young people to connect with others who may have mental health issues, particularly depressive disorders. In a recent study we conducted with Australian youth health service users, we found that many young people would be keen to connect with others like them to find support for a range of mental health issues. Connecting with others who have had similar experiences has been found to be beneficial for individuals affected by various health conditions. Online communities provide an opportunity for individuals affected by mental illness to connect with others, but the findings have been mixed. For example, a study of over 300 college students with mental illness found that only 20% felt that they benefited from online peer support, compared to those who had face-to-face contact. Although research indicates that peer support leads to positive outcomes for those with mental illness, further research is required to determine whether online settings are as effective as offline settings.

While it is clear that social media has its benefits in terms of mental health communication and support for persons suffering from mental illness, it also has an impact in exacerbating the illnesses of those who are already mentally disturbed. And, the wider population are affected too. A report produced by the Royal Society for Public Health (UK), “Status of Mind,” May 2017, states that social media has a negative impact on the mental health of 91% of 16-24 year olds. The potential benefits of social media in promoting mental health are various.

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